Govt asks handset businesses to discourage feature phone use

The move before 5G launch to affect 70pc of mobile users

HM Murtuza | Published: 22:06, Feb 14,2020

 
 

A file photo shows a man talking on a feature phone in Dhaka. The government has instructed the country’s mobile phone manufacturers, assemblers and importers to discourage the use of the second generation (2G) mobile phone technology-enabled feature phones. — New Age photo

The government has instructed the country’s mobile phone manufacturers, assemblers and importers to discourage the use of the second generation (2G) mobile phone technology-enabled feature phones.

The government move came despite the fact that around 70 per cent of the country’s mobile phone users are still using 2G technology dependent feature phones and the rest 30 per cent are using the third generation (3G) and the fourth generation (4G) technology-supported smartphones.

A letter of the posts and telecommunications ministry sent recently to the mobile phone importers, assemblers and manufacturers said that the government had already launched the 4G service and on the way to roll out the 5G service.

In October last year, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission announced that the 5G service would be launched within the year 2021.

Meanwhile, the telecom regulator has formed a committee on framing rules and regulations to facilitate the 5G launch.

In this context, the letter asked the importers, assemblers and manufacturers to discourage the use of 2G technology-based feature phones.

Meanwhile, the BTRC, following the ministry’s letter, on Thursday held a meeting with the mobile phone importers, assemblers and manufacturers to discuss how the use of 2G technology-based feature phones could be discouraged.

The meeting ended without making any decision but discussed formulation of an alternative plan in this regard.

In 2019, a total of 1.35 crore mobile handsets were sold, as per the BTRC data released in January this year.

Of the handsets, only 9.67 lakh or 7.16 per cent were smartphones, meaning that the rest 1.25 crore or 92.83 per cent were feature phones.

The 3G mobile phone service was launched in the country in October, 2012 and the 4G mobile phone service was launched in February, 2018.

At the time of the launch of the 4G service by the government in 2018, the mobile phone operators were reluctant to launch the 4G service initially making an excuse that they were yet to get returns against their investments for the 3G network expansion but finally launched the service following pressure from the government.

Now, the telecom operators are reluctant to launch the 5G service as only 2.71 crore or 16.37 per cent out of 16.55 crore mobile phone subscribers availed the 4G service in two years of the service launch, leaving the telecom operators’ projected profits unattained.

When the government has been talking about the launch of 5G service, the mobile phone operators have been pressing the government to support enhanced the penetration of 4G- and 5G-enabled smartphones so that operation of the service becomes viable for the telcos even it is launched within the year 2021.

With a view to supporting the government plan to launch 5G within the year 2021, the telecom ministry and the BTRC have been pressing the mobile phone importers, assemblers and manufacturers to promote the use of 4G- and 5G-enabled smartphones instead of 2G-enabled feature phones.

Asked about the reason for the instruction, posts and telecommunications minister Mustafa Jabbar told New Age on Friday, ‘The government is not going to shut the 2G service as a large number of the country’s people still use the service.’

‘As the services like 4G and VoLTE the government has launched for the people cannot be accessed by using feature phones, the instruction for discouraging feature phones was issued,’ Jabbar said, adding that the government would encourage the use of smartphones that would facilitate experiencing latest services.

Replying to a question how the government might discourage feature phone use, the telecom minister said that the government might phase out feature phone import when it would find it suitable.

Speaking about the government initiative, Bangladesh Mobile Phone Importers Association director Rezwanul Hoque told New Age that they had requested the BTRC not to take any measures for now as around 70 per cent of people were still using feature phones.

Edison Group, parent company of Symphony, managing director Jakaria Shahid told New Age that additional cost should not be imposed on the customers by forcing them to use 3G or 4G technology-enabled handsets.

Many of the customers only use the handset only for voice calls and they do not want to take any other service of mobile phone, Shahid said.

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